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"The Betrayal of Joe Paterno" Chapter Three: The Lull Before the Storm

CHAPTER THREE: THE LULL BEORE THE STORM

After the McQueary episode, it is very interesting to note that, contrary to the perception created (seemingly on purpose) by the prosecution’s nonsensical system for numbering the victims, there is a noticeable gap in criminal allegations against Sandusky. It appears as if there are no legitimate criminal sexual allegations made against Sandusky from the time of the McQueary accusation in 2001 until the claims of Victim 1 (now known as Aaron Fisher) finally ignited the formal grand jury investigation in 2009. 

Interestingly, when I informed Sandusky of this reality (uncovered by the tireless investigations of Penn State graduates Ray Blehar and Eileen Morgan), he seemed completely confused by what I was telling him. As I explained this a second time, he looked at me as if I had a third eye. When you think about it, this type of reaction actually seems rather consistent with him being potentially more “innocent” than we realize. After all, if you are guilty as hell, wouldn’t you be well aware that there were no victims during that time period because you were trying to be on your best behavior after almost being caught for a second time?

Significantly, the Aaron Fisher allegation was not made to Penn State (in fact, it wasn’t until after the Sandusky trial, when his lawyers decided to sue Penn State, that there was ever any allegation by him of abuse occurring there and Fisher has never claimed this under oath despite numerous opportunities to do so). It was first communicated to Central Mountain High School, where Sandusky was a volunteer assistant football coach (a position for which, he reminded me in one letter, he was required to be cleared legally).

Ironically, the high school originally did not believe Fisher’s claims of abuse (which, at first, did not involved actual “sex” acts). This fact is potentially important for several reasons, including that it revealed Sports Illustrated’s incredible agenda in this case when the magazine somehow praised Central Mountain head football coach, Steve Turchetta, as a lone “hero” in the story. In reality Turchetta was the one who was allowing Sandusky to get Fisher out of class and, along with the school’s therapist and principal, didn’t believe his first allegation (this absurdity was brought to comical light much later when ABC’s 20/20 tried to chase Turchetta down as he ran away from reporter Chris Cuomo, refusing to answer his questions).

The Fisher accusations against Sandusky were by far the most damaging and, in many ways, also seemingly the most credible of all of those made against Sandusky (among other reasons, he is the only criminal victim to attach his name to the allegations and write a book to go on the public record in great detail about them). However, for the purposes of Penn State, the accusations are essentially irrelevant. Sandusky hadn’t coached at Penn State for many years when he met Fisher and Fisher himself has made it very clear that he does not personally blame Penn State (though he does fault his high school).

It is very obvious that, without Fisher, a grand jury investigation against Sandusky probably never gets initiated. Even with Fisher, it is incredible how long that grand jury process took before finally signing off on Sanduky’s indictment (which is one of the many reasons that former Attorney General, now Governor Tom Corbett, had to feel vulnerable on this issue and eager to find a scapegoat other than the Second Mile, whose benefactors had given him substantial campaign contributions).

While impossible to know for sure, it would appear highly unlikely that there has ever been a case where the indictment took three years, involving multiple grand juries, and the conviction somehow occurred just seven months after the arrest. Again, I am not alleging some sort of complex conspiracy here, but rather pointing out that this raises important questions about the true nature of the evidence and how media pressure/public opinion likely played a role in rushing the trial process.

The remarkable length of the grand jury investigation (the grand juror I spoke to from the body which heard most of the key testimony was shocked at how long it took in comparison to other similar cases they heard) makes it clear that prosecutors were not comfortable with the level of proof that they had and that they had actually accumulated very little of it on their own. This is why they went to the extraordinary measure of leaking the details of the grand jury investigation to Sara Ganim, using her as a de facto Craigs List ad in the search for more victims. Based on what we now know, it was very reasonable for them to have been concerned.

First, Fisher was not seen as a perfect witness. In fact, he was far from it.

Fisher had a history of making up highly fantastic stories, one of which Sandusky caught on videotape, and his allegations were essentially a rollercoaster ride which at times got more and then suddenly less dramatic as he went through very controversial therapy to help him find “repressed” memories (with a therapist who was with him at every interview but one and who ended up co-writing his book). Amazingly, Fisher originally testified in front of two grand juries that there was never any sex with Sandusky before then only being able to nod “yes” when prosecutors asked him if there had been oral sex between them (interestingly, the grand juror I spoke to originally thought Fisher was “very credible,” but has recently changed his mind based on things he has learned about his story after having originally seen only the prosecution’s version of it). His timeline of events also kept shifting and his first and final versions of when these acts happened are completely incompatible with each other. He also hadn’t told anyone contemporaneously about the abuse he suffered and until he finally came forward even his mother did not suspect that anything was wrong with Sandusky.

Second, the Victim 6 allegation had already been investigated many years before and determined to be “unfounded.” In the dozen years since that event, there were no more criminal allegations against Sandusky by Victim 6 and they still maintained a very close relationship.

Third, until they “found” Mike McQueary, they did not have even one direct eyewitness to Sandusky ever acting even “inappropriately” with a boy (the grand juror I spoke to said that there was an obvious lull in the case before McQueary suddenly showed up). This is obviously why they pushed McQueary so hard and then twisted his testimony into a horrific account in the grand jury presentment which didn’t match his actual story. This also explains why the prosecution chose to pretend that Victim 2 didn’t really exist and why it was so vital that Joe Paterno at least partially backed up McQueary’s story.

The prosecution’s insecurity about the McQueary allegation is also why they felt forced into charging Curley and Schultz with perjury so that they could effectively “protect” their star witness. Had they not done so, McQueary’s story would have been contradicted by several highly credible local figures and only moderately supported by Paterno. (I wish to make clear here that I think it is possible that the prosecution issued what they thought were totally valid charges against Curley and Schultz. While their perspective was likely skewed by their boss Corbett’s hatred of Spanier/Penn State, they may have been honestly convinced that Sandusky was a “monster” who had to be stopped by any means necessary that they also came to believe that it would have been impossible for Penn State as a whole to be completely in the dark with regard to who he really was).

The important take away here is that, contrary to media/public perception, at the time of his arrest the case against Sandusky was not nearly the slam dunk that it now appears to have been. Of the eight original “victims” (none of whom were found directly by police in the three year investigation), only six were actual known people. Of those six, only two made accusations of overt “sex” acts and only one, Victim 4, claimed anything close to “anal” sex (and that was only after strong initial denials and investigators conspiring on tape to lie to Victim 4 in an effort to get him to say that). Amazingly, not one of these victims claimed in their initial versions of their stories to have been subjected to overt “sex” by Sandusky.

No one ever points any of this out because it sounds like you are defending Sandusky, which is now politically akin to supporting Adolf Hitler. However, these facts are critical to understanding the circumstances as they really were in early November of 2011 when Sandusky was arrested and the idyllic world of Happy Valley was shattered almost overnight.

Ironically, had the case against Sandusky been stronger at this time, prosecutors likely would not have felt compelled to go with the “flood the zone” strategy where they clearly decided that they needed to flip the psychological burden of proof by making it appear that the evidence against him was just completely overwhelming. But by including eight victims (again, only six were actual people), some of whom claimed rather benign “non sexual” allegations; it created the impression in the public’s mind that the prosecution had at least eight people who claimed Sandusky had “raped” them. This was just not close to being true.

Similarly, if the prosecution hadn’t needed McQueary, their only witness, so badly, they might never have even brought charges against Penn State officials (though there are many, including Graham Spanier himself, who strongly and plausibly believe that Governor Tom Corbett’s hatred of Spanier over state funding issues may have caused them to go in that direction anyway). Had rationality reigned and Sandusky had been given basic due process (he could be the most guilty man alive and I would still argue that he did not receive a fair trial), then Penn State may have never been the focus of such white hot rage well before the actual perpetrator had even gone to trial.

CHAPTER FOUR: THE MEDIA FIRESTORM